Austral Skies are Bigger


“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”
~Maya Angelou

“What the f*** am I doing here?” I lamented, floating on a surfboard that was too small at a point break too crowded, and drifting slowly away, alone, on a riptide too strong to fight. My resolve was as shredded as an air mattress dragged across barnacles.

I was paddling in futility against a current, eating whitewash, and lacerating my feet on the stony bottom. The sun was a cosmic death metal band blaring its ultraviolet music through my skin as if it were an open Sunday school window. I’d been on this regimen for two weeks.

“What the f*** am I even doing here?” The fruits of days of effort in the water summed to a few wobbly seconds hunched atop a fiberglass biscuit. I was fed up, defeated.

Then, just two days later:
I strolled to the beach empty of expectation. Sunscreen lathered, wetsuit wiggled into, board waxed, I paddled out. I waited with more patience than a monk trapped in a coal mine. I was pickier than a vegetarian at a meat lover’s picnic. When I saw the dark rise of a breaking swell, I paddled hard. I felt the tilt and push. I put in two extra pumps, popped up with knees bent. I found myself standing, riding glass. I’d finally caught a green wave. It was tidal bliss.

So what am I really doing here? Besides surfing, smoking, eating, drinking, and being merry?

Will I tell the story of catching my first wave in six months? In one month? Tomorrow? Probably not. But when I remember Raglan, it will be like visiting a tall, familiar evergreen perched on an oceanfront promontory. Roots extended by tenacity, self esteem is the water for which they reach. The branches, a sense of accomplishment, stretch into the sky. And the tree is leaved by the countless smiles and laughter inspired by the daily interactions with new friends.

This tree will not soon wither away. It will not be churned up by the plow of time. It will not uproot from winds of doubt. And if the need arises, it will provide a respite from the rains of adversity.

This is what I’m doing in Raglan. I am cultivating the experiences that I can forever recall with a sweet smile. I am earning self esteem. I am expanding my abilities, and thus my self confidence. I am developing the soft qualifications that will never appear on a resume, but are infinitely useful in life.

I have forgone plush furniture, four sturdy walls, silver cutlery, and security in service of this pursuit. I have forgone the comforts of the familiar, the enjoyment of television dramas, and the fleeting elation of easy diversions.

I’ve given up seeking narcotic kicks. Chasing distilled hedonism, pure debauchery, and the perfect high can indeed spawn torrid thrills. But those experiences burn as intensely as they are fleeting. People don’t recall snorting coke in Vegas when times are tough. Hospice patients don’t discuss super bowl records. Stories aren’t told of attaining high scores in Tetris. Reality T.V. validates only the judgmental and insecure.

Similarly, no one archives all the season finales of long past sitcoms in the vault of their hearts. No one smiles to themselves in the subway thinking about a cat video watched months prior. These tenuous boosts of happiness are tinder, shreds of paper in the forge that warms your soul. They are flowers, grass, houseplants, in the fields of the mind. Their roots are shallow. Their lifespans are short. Their benefit is brief.

Of course whittling away time with entertainment is not without value. The fragrance of vicarious drama, of manufactured emotion, adds to the bouquet of life. It only becomes a bane when taken to excess. A life full of such light fare is ultimately hollow. When storm clouds gather there’s no place to hide.

You don’t need to belong to club tumbleweed to grow your own forests of accomplishment. Learning how to cook Spanish tortillas, play the didgeridoo, or speak Swahili doesn’t require living out of a backpack. Building a shed or planting a garden, attending square dance classes, or starting a novelty sunglasses business can be done at home. There are countless sources of passion. What distinguishes these pursuits is that they are acts of creation instead of consumption. They all involve interacting with the world as opposed to merely observing it.

Ultimately it comes down to passion. The biggest impediment to living life passionately is often the demands of full time work. Few have the energy to devote to what vivifies them after ten hours of commute and work. A lazy beer and mindless television is a soothing balm for the rash of drudgery. Weekends are often spent on chores or partying hard to justify five days worth of hard work. And so youth is spent.

There are periods of life in which we’re obliged to exert ourselves toward uninspiring ends. Personally, I shouldered these burdensome phases with an escape strategy. Caught in the cycle of exhausting work and desperate recovery, at least I knew when it would end.

Now I’m here in Raglan living out a dream I carried through 18 months of predawn alarm clocks, congested traffic, and dirty work. I’m here planting the seeds of lifelong memories. I’m here harvesting self-esteem, refining my worldview, sharpening my wit, and learning ever more about the human experience.

Thank you for reading.


One Comment to “Austral Skies are Bigger”

  1. […] when I wax poetic about growing the forests of my mind, I am drawing a healthy parallel. No one can perceive the literal development of neural pathways. […]

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